VIENNA, Austria - A medieval cross that was hidden from the Nazis and ended up in the trash has been found to be worth more than a half-million dollars, police said Thursday.
A woman looking for old crockery in a trash container in the western Austrian town of Zell am See stumbled upon the piece in 2004, Salzburg police said Thursday, when they announced the find.
The woman, who has not been identified, apparently did not know what she had found and stashed the cross behind her couch. Last month, a neighbor with a keen eye had an inkling the cross might be something special and took it to a local museum in the village of Leogang.
Now experts say the cross could be worth more than $500,000 at auction. A local museum has custody of it for the moment, and it's unclear whether the trash-foraging woman will get so much as a penny for her find.
She discovered the cross while going through items discarded by the relatives of a local hotel owner who had died, the Austria Press Agency quoted police official Christian Krieg as saying. The woman showed the cross to the niece of the dead man, and the niece allowed the woman to take it, the news agency reported.
An investigation revealed that, until World War II, the cross was part of an art collection belonging to Polish nobility at Goluchow Castle, police Col. Josef Holzberger said.
Before the outbreak of war, the piece was hidden from the Nazis in the cellar of a building in Warsaw, according to a police statement. But the Nazis found it in 1941 and later brought it to a castle in Austria. Investigators are still trying to determine what happened next.
Experts at Vienna's fine arts museum determined that it comes from Limoges, France, and dates to about 1200. Police said similar pieces have been auctioned for up to $536,620.
In a telephone interview with The Associated Press, Hermann Mayrhofer, the curator of the Leogang museum, said that he knew straight away that the cross came from Limoges and praised the woman for salvaging it.